Time to get to the bottom of Tafa’igata landfill fire

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The plight of people living in Falelauniu, Vaitele-fou, Nu’u and nearby areas in relation to toxic fumes from the Tafaigata Rubbish dump deserves a lot more attention that it has been given. 

That’s simply because lives are precious and although there has been no scientific evidence to prove the smoke from the fire is hazardous, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that it is unhealthy and highly toxic. 

I live around the area and take it from me; it’s not a smell you want to wake up to. The fact that it is a recurring problem also suggests there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed than treating it as an occasional fire. Indeed, this is the second time the issue has emerged, ironically at about the same time of the year.

The first time was last year during the dry season when multiple fires sprung up around the area. At the time, it was thought it was only a one off incident. It was not; it took weeks for the authorities to put it out properly.

Interestingly, now that we are in the middle of the dry season, we have the same problem. And again the authorities have struggled to deal with it immediately. This obviously suggests there is a bigger issue that needs to be dealt with at the landfill. There is no guarantee the fire will not go off again this time next year and the following years.

The worry is that while the government authorities are trying to find some solutions, people’s lives are being endangered.

Listen to Onotolu Falefala for instance; who said his family has been struggling to sleep since the fire returned.

Said he: “Whatever was burnt it sure smelled toxic. We live in an open fale and the smoke was hard to inhale. It was like the fire was right next to our house.”

Further down at Nu’u and Aele, it was a similar story.

“I couldn’t recognise the colour of my house when I woke up on Thursday morning,” said Petone Aumalia. “I thought it was a Sunday morning with the smoke from the umu except the smell was horrible.”

Another Vaitele-fou man who wished to remain anonymous said the government should show that it is concerned about the issue.

“We are inhaling these fumes,” he said. “I’m not an expert in matters of the environment but my human gut feeling tells me that these fumes are poisonous and hazardous. My children are also inhaling them and so are thousands of other people in the area. 

“This is coming from plastics and other materials that are not supposed to be burnt. Does anyone care to find out why these fires keep on happening?”

The good news is that the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia and his team appear to be on top of the issue.

Earlier this week, he assured that they are doing everything they can to help the people affected.

 “The fire was under control after our collective efforts with F.E.S.A and contractors which took up the whole day on Saturday until the early hours of Sunday,” he said. “By Sunday late afternoon, the fire was out.”

But Suluimalo said the fire flared up again on Monday afternoon.

 “At the moment our staff and contractors are currently working to completely stamp out the new fire.”

The hot and dry conditions have not helped the authorities. Well we understand. These are tough times for the Fire Services especially in these dry conditions. Perhaps one of the issues both F.E.S.A and M.N.R.E should find out is how these fires are started. Knowing that the landfill is a goldmine for the hungry, poor and scavengers, they might be part of the problem. 

All it takes for a fire to go off is a cigarette butt and we all know that these cigarette butts don’t just walk themselves there. The other scenario – which we hope is not the case – is a person who is deliberately setting off these fires. In that case, the Police should be called in to investigate and find the culprit.

As we’ve said at the beginning, innocent lives are put at risk from the toxic fumes and this cannot be allowed to continue as it it’s normal. This is why we say this issue deserves a lot more attention. 

Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy Samoa’s clean air, if you’re not anywhere near Tafa’igata, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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